Three years to the day after last beating Marist St Pat’s Eremia Tapsell and Jason Bird were one of three players to return to their starting XV to do it again over their nearby rivals.
Saturday’s win over MSP was a special one for the Axemen, not to mention timely after dropping their opening two matches this season, but for Tapsell and Bird it was all the more significant being milestone matches.
“Jason and I were making our 50th Premier starts. Blazer games are given to players at our club after 50 starts, so it was a satisfying evening for us both in more ways than one.”
Making it even more memorable for Tapsell was that the 23-9 win over MSP in 2016 was the occasion of his first Premier start.
He started on the left wing that night in 2016. On Saturday he started his second consecutive match at first five-eighth, after missing the first through injury.
“I have been a utility for the Axemen, but I have probably played most of my rugby at second five and fullback, but then again I have played everywhere from 10 through to 15!”
Tapsell has also played sevens rugby for the Axemen over the past few seasons and enjoyed being part of the team that finished runners-up in the 2017 American Ambassador’s sevens series.
The current team’s first five also scored the Axemen’s only try of the match in Saturday’s 13-10 win on Saturday, scored against the run of play late in the first half.
“Their first five-eighth put a cross-kick over to their wing from a scrum in midfield, but our wing latched on to this on the full and scooted up field and put in a centering kick which bounced well for me and I scored the try.”
The Axemen led 7-5 at halftime playing into the hostile Hataitai Park wind, and steadied their resolve with the wind in their favour in the second 40 minutes. Committed defence stopped several waves of MSP attacking forays in its tracks.
Tapsell also welcomed the influence of Hurricanes halfback Richard Judd.
“He’s a quality player, it was awesome to have him there and to give me good service from the back of the ruck.”
This was his 13th try in Premier rugby, and goes with the brace he scored against the Upper Hutt Rams last week.
The Axemen lost that fixture against the Rams 26-46, after also losing their season opener to the Avalon Wolves 15-27.
Wellington’s coaches put the team through an extra training session last week in preparation for the vital MSP clash on Saturday.
Like many clubs, the Axemen have had several personnel changes this year, after a tough 2018 that saw them win four first round matches and finish 11th of 14 teams in the first round and then miss out on the Hardham Cup semi-finals.
In the last round-robin game of 2018, Wellington were leading Wainuiomata with Tapsell himself scoring a long-range solo try from broken play and then making another break that led directly to another try. But Wainuiomata came back to win by scoring tries through experienced players Ben Tupuola and Michael Lealava’a and that was the Axemen’s season done.
This year’s Axemen’s backs have a changed look about them from last year. Gone are Olly Sapsford (Hawke’s Bay), Callum Harkin (Old Boys University), TeRaina Richards-Coxhead (season off), Jonnie Te Ruki Chambers (season off) and Gareth Simpson (UK) among the departed.
In the forwards, other regular players such as Alex Dalzell (Manly) and Simon Shearer and Mikey Smith (both retired) have moved on.
There are some new and returning players this year. Chief among them are loose forward Sam Gard’ner, returning after a year off.
Outside back Henry Hocking is also still to return after injuring his hamstring in pre-season.
Other new players in the forwards who have featured so far include flanker Max Allen (Brisbane), lock Semisi Poloniati (South Canterbury) and and Angelo Smith (Fiji via IRANZ).
Tapsell himself is from out of town.
“I grew up in Maketu on a dairy farm and went to Bethlehem College. I studied engineering in Canterbury and played Colts for Canterbury University and later took a year off while I was in the States studying.”
Tapsell works as a structural engineer out of Wellington, and worked on the design of the bridges they are building around Otaki at present as part of the SH1 expressway project.
How did he end up at the Axemen? “I wanted to play for one of the town clubs and I went along to Axemen training one day and met some people including coaches Murray Mexted and Rodney So’oialo and went from there.”
The Swindale Shield doesn’t get any easier. This coming weekend the Axemen host Northern United at Hataitai Park. The defending first round champions will be eager to win again after drawing with Petone 19-19 on Saturday.